14 August 2006

Bring out the dead!

** Important author's note: I feel the need to add a disclaimer to this entry, to warn you, in all seriousness, that this post is not for the faint of heart. If you're troubled by the concept of death, squeamish about bodies, skip this post. Otherwise, read on. But don't say I didn't warn you! **
Monty Python wasn't kidding. I'm not dead yet, but I feel halfway there. I'm about to begin my third week of medical school (well, or 2nd, if you count from 0 like the professors do....) and I already feel like I've been hit by a truck. This is one wild experience (experiment?)....

Friday's exam was actually not the most difficult part of this process so far. Don't get me wrong--I don't feel like I performed too terribly well on the tests (<--being the dumb-@ss first year that I am, I managed to strain my back while trying to carry my books last weekend...as a result, I spent much of the week too gorked out on muscle relaxants to study effectively)--but it was still just a test. (<--Listen to me, "just a test." Have I been invaded by aliens? Highly likely.) What may or may not have been a test: after three full days of orientation lectures orientating us to everything, we were thrown, without warning, into a room with cadavers. Four cadavers, prosected (i.e. pre-dissected), lying on metal tables, oozing formaldehyde, missing skin.... To be perfectly blunt, it was gruesome. Don't misunderstand--I've seen dead bodies before, on more occasion than I'd care to recount. But those bodies were mortuary-embalmed, shrouded in the strangeness of theatrical makeup and staged position. They were bodies. These are cadavers.

There's something odd about walking into a room where four cadavers are strewn, almost haphazardly, onto metal dissecting tables. It's eerie (I'd say pun unintended, but perhaps I'm wrong?) to view these people in sheets of flesh. It's especially odd when you don't expect to walk in on them, lying there, naked. I swear, I almost apologized!

There is something to this, I think, however. I have this strange desire to apologize to these people as I probe their muscles and veins. I am fascinated by their bodies, honored to be able to study them, to touch them, to see up close what so few get to see. Yet I wonder--what kind of person sacrifices their body to science in this manner? Did they realize, when they signed up for this, that they would be literally dis-membered in front of us? Did they imagine themselves, devoid of skin, missing fingers, having arms dis-articulated so that we could learn the minute details of gross anatomy?

I look around me during lab session, the cadavers on the tables, the x-rays and CT scan images on the light boards, skeletons hanging from wheeled racks, and I see among these things all these young, eager students. They move around with ease, sticking their fingers into bodies, around bones, and teach each other. I feel sometimes like I am the only one momentarily frozen, momentarily un-moving, wondering: at what point do we all realize that we're merely dust? When do we come to an understanding that, in a matter of moments, we'll be cadavers, too? And what do we do with this awareness? How do we hold on to this knowledge without losing our minds?

I look down at the back of the little old woman, splayed open before me, lifeless. I can only hope that in this study, through this person's sacrifice, I'll find some semblance of an answer....

11 August 2006

The First Exam

Today is the 8th day of medical school...and the day of the first examination. Ouch. When they told us that this experience would be like drinking out of a fire hose, they weren't kidding. I'm drowning in knowledge.

At present, I'm sitting out on the second floor hallway, outside the lecture hall, waiting for my classmates to finish taking the written portion of the examination. Next, I get to go back in there and try my hand at a "practical" examination--meaning I have to make sense out of nonsense and be able to distinguish stuff on slides. My confidence in this skill is definitely waning....

Ironically, though, I'm not as nervous as I usually am before/during exams. I'm too exhausted to get riled up and everyone around me is so hyper-concerned that it's already getting old.
I got called into part II of the exam before I could finish this post. More on the mayhem in a moment!

10 August 2006


Ah, histology...it's a bear, but videos like this (however rudimentary!) definitely help facilitate the learning process.

a little disclaimer...

i'm a medical student. just a student. so please, don't take anything i say too seriously. remember that i was an english literature major as an undergrad, so there is much fiction to be found in these pages. do you think i'm telling a story about you or your illness? more likely, you're tapping into my sense of "everyman"--that is, your story resonates with what i write here because it's not so uncommon after all. need help? please, please go see your physician. <--i'm not her. yet. ;-)